Do you have a passion for discovering the stories behind buildings and places? Find out what it’s like to be an Architectural Investigator at Historic England.
What do we do?
No two days are the same for investigators, whether we’re out discovering medieval timber-framed buildings or investigating 20th-century public houses. But what do we do?
If people imagine some sort of detective, they will not be far from the truth. Like detectives, we’re focused on uncovering evidence and establishing facts: in our case, about a building or a settlement, when it was built, why, and how it has changed and evolved. We also assess its character and significance.
We belong to a multi-disciplinary team which studies historic sites, places and landscapes with a focus on championing heritage for future generations.
A day in the life of an investigator
Although we enjoy the time we spend in the office writing our reports, the most enjoyable part is when we are out in the field. These examples of typical working days give a flavour of what we do.
Starting a project to uncover Snodhill Castle
Snodhill Castle in Herefordshire was on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2016 when it was taken over by the community-run Snodhill Castle Preservation Trust which set out to raise funds for its restoration.
Since little was known about the castle, Historic England’s investigators undertook a project to provide an initial survey of the site, to inform further research by the trust. The castle has since been removed from the Heritage at Risk Register and is now open to the public.
Diary entry by Senior Investigator Rebecca Lane
The day starts at 7am, when I pick up my colleague and drive to site. There we meet representatives from the trust and experts from the Castle Studies Group.
We explore the earthworks: could this level platform be traces of the castle chapel? My colleague gets excited about earthworks previously thought to be the traces of medieval fish ponds, which he thinks might be part of an Iron-Age hillfort.
We move on to discuss the sequence of phases visible in surviving elements of the curtain wall.
Next we look at the wider landscape, including the boundary of the castle deer park.
We end up at Snodhill Court, a nearby farmhouse. Previously thought to date from the 17th century, a closer examination suggests that one wing might be part of an earlier house. We note that the later phase of the building has reused masonry, perhaps from the castle.
This long day in the field has helped us to focus our forthcoming survey work on several important questions. We discuss our methodology on the way back and agree priorities. We need to ensure that the project focuses on the initial needs of the trust; wider research questions will have to wait until additional funding is in place.
Find out more about Snodhill Castle
Fieldwork and research into pubs that were part of the State Management Scheme
A national project looked at 20th-century public houses and their significance to help to protect these vulnerable building types for the future. Some buildings were newly listed as a result and some existing list entries were enhanced on the National Heritage List for England. The project also developed our understanding of which buildings are most important and why.
In Carlisle, the team investigated public houses converted or built by the government under the State Management Scheme between 1916 and 1972. The aims of our survey were to identify, investigate and protect the remaining architectural legacy of the scheme.
Diary entry by Architectural Investigator Clare Howard
Off to Carlisle for me. The day starts at Carlisle Archives. We’ve chosen key pubs to research: those that were purpose-built, still standing and are best preserved. We examine their records, particularly original plans, and copy them for future reference.
We then head to the Spinners Arms, Cummersdale. The landlady outlines the history of the building. It was one of the new model inns designed by the architect Harry Redfern in the vernacular revival style, built in 1929-30. Comparison with the records from the archives shows that its exterior is almost exactly as designed, with some intriguing animal motifs along the lead gutters. The interior retains many original features. I write notes and sketch a plan of the layout while my colleague takes photographs.
On to the Cumberland Inn in the heart of Carlisle, built in 1929-30 in a Tudor Gothic town house style. We visit the first-floor restaurant. We are delighted to discover that much of the original layout survives, complete with panelling, fireplaces, seating and even lavatory cubicles! The windows incorporate stained-glass motifs to commemorate the people who designed and built the public house, something we haven’t seen elsewhere. Again, we compile notes, compare the layout with the archival plans and take lots of photographs.
It’s been a long day, but extremely productive and further research over the next few days will help to understand more about the pubs built under the State Management Scheme.
More about State Management Scheme pubs
Meet our investigators
Senior Investigator, Historic England
Rebecca joined Architectural Investigation in 2010. She specialises in vernacular buildings and is currently responsible for a range of projects looking at early fabric in historic towns.
Clare worked in commercial archaeology and heritage consultancy before joining Historic England. In her current role, Clare specialises in the research and investigation of heritage of various periods. Her particular interests are in medieval and church architecture.